CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - One of the most recognizable names in NASCAR says the sport is all messed up and in the need of changes and a serious boost.
In a video posted on YouTube on Sunday, "Humpy" Wheeler says racing has gotten "too fancy" and left its fans behind.
Wheeler is the former President and General Manager of the Lowes Motor Speedway, in Concord, and is known as one of the foremost promoters in NASCAR history.
He now runs The Wheeler Company, a consulting management firm focusing on general business, professional sports, and motorsports.
He says he's thought long and hard about what is wrong with NASCAR these days.
"I think we've messed it up a little, folks. I think we got too fancy," he said in the video. "I think as it soared back in the 90's a lot of people wanted to change it. They didn't like the way it was, they thought it was too country or too unsophisticated or whatever. And those people were dead wrong."
He says people have been trying to make changes to NASCAR for decades now. In one example, he said that tire-maker Firestone approached him in the 1960s about sending former racer, and NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, Richard Petty to diction lessons.
He said the company wanted Petty to speak differently, saying Petty was "too 'twangy."
Wheeler says he told the company that changing that about Petty would be like telling Andy Griffith to speak differently. He said Petty wouldn't do it because it would change who he was and people wouldn't like that.
In the video, Wheeler says that with the boom of the 90s, the sport of racing went into a ten to twelve year "power curve."
VIDEO FOR MOBILE USERS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwCByvLkSK0
"Every sport has to go through that ten to twelve year 'power curve' to go from a sport with a certain base to one with a national base," Wheeler said.
According to Wheeler, once a power curve hits a mark, it plateaus. Another curve can exist if you get an exciting personality that can energize the sport.
"Racing has been on this plateau since about 2005," Wheeler says in the video. "Part of the reason was [Dale] Earnhardt's death. Dale Earnhardt was loved by 50% of the people and not particularly liked by the other 50% til' he died. Then all of a sudden everybody loved him."
Wheeler says Earnhardt was popular for the same reason Richard Petty was popular.
"Dale was the last 'working man's driver' that we had," Wheeler said. "He was a mechanic, he was a bonding man. He was as good with Bondo as anyone I've ever seen."
Wheeler says that everyone could relate to Earnhardt no matter what they did. He didn't mind getting dirt under his fingers, he didn't talk "just right" and he didn't even finish high school.
"No one could step up and say 'I'm gonna take Dale Earnhardt's job'," Wheeler said. "There wasn't a guy out there."
Wheeler says that Clint Bowyer had a similar path to Earnhardt, but once he hit the national spotlight he "fancied himself up. He didn't want to be the working man anymore."
In the video, Wheeler says the drivers that deserve to be in the sport are on dirt tracks all around the country.
"That's one of the bad things that we have going on today, folks. A lot of people just can't afford to put a steering wheel in their hand. And it's just terrible. These cars have just gotten too expensive on a grass-roots level," Wheeler said. "We're not getting all the best drivers, I hate to say that. But because they don't talk right, they don't look right, they don't dress right - they may not be corporately-inclined. And I hate that word."
"Corporations, to a certain extent, have put us into this and that is big controversy - me saying that," Wheeler said in the video. "People will say 'They are the people that fed you. They are the people that sponsored Lowes Motor Speedway. All these companies made racing what it is today' - well it is to a certain extent. But what happened is they got some fancy people working for them that did not know what racing was all about. They tried to change it."
Wheeler says by trying to change it, they "corporatized it" and a lot of fans left the sport.
"They left by droves, they left by flocks. Yeah, they kept watching it on the TV some, but they didn't come to the racetrack. They didn't come where you need them."
Wheeler says a series of bad races with no lead changes and no "re-passes" also hurt the sport. He says NASCAR no longer has rivalries to spur ticket sells.
"We need to change the point situation. You don't buy tickets to see a points race, you buy a ticket to see the race."
He says drivers have become so concerned about earning points at the end of the race that they don't race with their full hearts and competition.
"We need to put the emphasis on winning. And we need to put the emphasis on leading and passing people as the race progresses. Give points for the repass [...] People in the grandstand are gonna go crazy when we do that."
He suggests that NASCAR give winners and leaders bigger bonuses. He says that will make races more exciting and that will bring fans back to the track. He says increases in the quality of TV broadcasting has hurt in-person attendance.
"You've got to give them a reason to come back to the ballpark - whether the ballpark is a racetrack or whether it's stadium. Gotta give them a reason to come back. Part of that reason is excitement. That's the whole reason!"